This election cycle has been more exhausting and traumatising than any that I can remember. Not even our most violent elections in Jamaica come close to how traumatised I am right now and we still have another 4 months to go before it’s over.

I feel beaten down and sore. There is so much violent rhetoric everywhere and nothing anyone says can be taken on face value. No one is trustworthy and everyone is corrupt and a liar. Some more so than others until you talk to someone who actually supports that one and then … not so corrupt. It’s exhausting. The number of media houses who are willing to examine this race from an objective perspective is slim and people stick to their preferred outlets even when they know how biased they are. I really wish that the public was more discerning than they are.

I don’t even know how I got so gung-ho about voting either. I haven’t been this interested in voting since I was first able to vote as a young adult in Jamaica. And that was a pretty disappointing experience. I voted for a woman I thought would have more interest in contributing to bettering the community than anything else. Boy was I disappointed. Whatever progress was made was invisible to me and it tainted my view of politics and government for years afterwards.

As I grew older, though, it became clearer to me that politics was less about me and more about community, the most needy, and optics. And it is that last bit that poses a conundrum for me because I am of the opinion that it really should not matter what people think of you, but at the same time I am very much in favour of not behaving like a complete numbskull in public either. Which isn’t necessarily contradicting stances, mind you. One can be one’s true self without being an ass so long as one is not actually an ass.

And this brings me to this whole 2016 election. We’ve got an ass and a hardass as choices. I dunno … it’s kind of shitty that the one year I decide to be good citizen, my choices are between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And while I am of the firm opinion that one of these is worse than the other (and I am not here to say which that is), I really am tired of the way in which people have taken these elections and turned it into an excuse to belittle one another, alienate one another, and shut one another down.

As someone on a friend’s Facebook thread said, this election season is way too long. Most marriages can’t last with this level and duration of vitriol. Why are we doing this to ourselves?


Theories about the “problem in America today”

I am trying very hard to blog more often. I am also trying to tell myself that my blog posts don’t always have to be my own thoughts and views. I can also link other people’s thoughts and views as well. And here is one shining example of that realisation.

Browing Google+, as I so very infrequently do, I stumbled onto this post that outlines the main reason that David Niose (a blogger/writer at PsychologyToday.com) thinks “America” is devolving. He says it’s all about anti-intellectualism. Since I know opinion pieces are just that, I tend to check out the comments more on these pieces because sometimes commenters bring up relevant information and opinions that present a foil or a bolster to the piece’s premise. In this case, someone in the comments mentioned “pseudointellectualism” which struck a chord with me. English language form is to use the preface “pseudo” when we mean to introduce the notion of “false” or “pretend” to a topic. A lot of people argue based on emotion rather than rationale. There may be facts embedded in their arguments, but for the most part, it’s all emotion.

Anyway, the wonderful thing I like about the way PsychologyToday.com does their stuff is that they link “response articles” to pieces like this one. And in this case, we have two responses to this piece that present slightly different perspectives: Ravi Chandra’s assertion that it is more self-centredness than anti-intellectualism that is contributing to the this new “America” and Michael Austin’s agreement from a Christian’s perspective that the problem is anti-intellectualism.

I love this kind of stuff. Thought provoking.

I’d also add that this isn’t a problem limited to the United States. This is a disease that is global. Ignorance and denial does not know borders.

I’d also like to add that even with these articles in mind, none of this is that simple. One cannot distill the world’s or one country’s problems into one word. But this gives us a very real place to start fixing things – education, rationale, critical thinking.

How much does groupthink contribute to implicit bias?

This sounds like the title for an academic paper, doesn’t it? Heh. Maybe I should work my way into academia and write thoughtful, philosophical papers on the human condition. Yeah … no. That’s not me. Not in the least.

I may not be model material for academia, but I do think a great deal about the human condition. Maybe too much. In fact, my husband would agree that I think too much. He’s told me that on several occasions. My reaction is that I’ve got a brain and brains do best when used and I use mine to think. Thus, I am using my brain – exercising it, if you’d like, in much the same way people go to step class. /nod When they cut me open, they’ll find my brain limber and beautifully muscle-toned. I am rambling …

While putting sheets and towels in the washing machine, loading the dishwasher, and making breakfast (including gloriously stand-the-spoon-up-in-it coffee) this morning, it occurred to me that maybe part of what we’re seeing with this categorical denial of racial bias and the perpetuation of systems that exhibit racial bias is less about systems theory (although I am sure there is plenty of that), and plenty to do with groupthink. How else can you justify an entire police department participating in behaviour that is as reprehensible as confiscating a “bike of a 54-year-old black man because he didn’t have a receipt proving that it belonged to him”?

Yes. I am aware that my linked article is from a well-known progressive site. Based on how Vox.com articles are written, it’s pretty obvious that if they were going to be classified on one or another side of the political spectrum, they would necessarily fall centre of left. I don’t care. This isn’t about politics. I’m apolitical, remember?

It doesn’t matter who you are, when you look at the big picture, one cannot deny that there does seem to be an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports a pattern of racial bias. And I am not calling anyone a racist. I can’t do that. I don’t have enough info about anyone. Besides, I don’t want to. Being called a racist is horrible. Ugh. I can’t even begin to imagine …

I am a big picture person. I tend to see the overall view rather than the detailed individualised view. I don’t know where that came from. I can’t trace back to any particular event or lesson in my life. I just tend to look at things from a broader perspective than most people I’ve met. It’s a curse sometimes because it makes me deny myself things I want “for the greater good”. Bah. Hate that shit. Sometimes I wish I could be selfish. I don’t think I know how. But I digress …

The big picture shows that there is something going on. There has to be. And here’s what I think it is: groupthink. Know what that is? It’s that shit that happens when you’re with a group of people and you’re all having a grand old time and one person says “we should go get a few brews” and someone else goes “yeah! great idea. let’s do that” and a few more people nod and smile and agree (you never notice that some of this agreement is kind of lacklustre, like they’d rather not) and before you know it, you’re thinking “I may as well go too cos if I don’t they’ll think I’m a snob or something”. That’s groupthink … a rather simplified version, but still exemplary.

I am perfectly able to envision a situation where a seasoned policeman says he thinks that dude stole the bicycle he’s on, and his rookie partner accepts that because experience is valued highly in law enforcement. And before you know it, an entire police department is going along with it because “cop instincts”.

I am not ridiculing cop instincts. Far from it. It’s kept my own husband alive more than once. Cop instincts tend to be good ones. They deal with all kinds of people all day long, every day, for years; decades. You kinda get a feel for how people think after a while. “Cop instincts” saves lives.

I wonder if you can spot the point of failure in my scenario, though. Can you? I’ll wait.

It’s the seasoned policeman. He’s got this little bias thing going on in his head. He probably doesn’t even realise it. It’s been there for all his life, ever since that old granduncle of his told him that there was something inherently bad about black people. He doesn’t consciously think there is something bad about black people and he certainly would not be one to say it out loud, even if he had doubts about it. Hell, maybe he even had a run in or two with a black guy once who stole bikes constantly and who stood out in his memory for some reason. Nothing wrong with that at all. Perfectly understandable. “Cop instincts” – right? They might have kept him safe from that good-for-nothing-bike-thief way back before now. Except, that memory, that instinct made him target someone entirely different without any obvious reason and his experience and respected “cop instincts” made everyone else support him.

It’s important to remember that I’m not blaming our seasoned policeman for anything. I’m not saying he’s a bad person or a bad policeman. I’m not even saying that anything should be done to him as a result. Hell, I’d probably have sided with him too were I his partner.

No; the effects of psychological phenomena such as groupthink isn’t something we can always see or even prevent. It happens even when we don’t even realise it – like that bloody night out with the boys drinking when you really would have preferred to just go home and binge-watch Dexter on Netflix.

What’s the solution? I dunno. Do you have any ideas? Cos all I do is think of causes and effects, dude. I haven’t quite gotten to solutions yet. I may need help there. I think my strengths are more seeing “what is and why”, rather than the creation of the “how it should be”. Hell, how can we build a “what should be” when human nature consistently and relentlessly sabotages every attempt, anyway?

Seriously. All I am asking is that we can at least admit that something is wrong and that maybe we need to take a closer look at the shit we do, say, and think before we go off half-cocked. Yeah? How’s that sound?

On echo chambers and the stark contrasts that exist among them

I think I sit in a particularly advantageous position of straddling several different cultures and ideologies because of the friends I have on my many social media contact lists. For some reason, I have collected a most diverse group of friends.

Facebook provides the most of this experience because of the nature of Facebook sharing. As a sampling of all the different people on my list, there’s the ultra conservatives (whose posts I have to go searching for because they don’t show up in my news feed – damn that filter bubble), and the staunch liberals, and there are the Jamaicans and the other Caribbeanites, then I have the Europeans (who I also have to go seeking their posts out separately too – probably Facebook’s annoying geographic filtering at work), and the Asians (same – have to seek their posts out) … and then national and political sectioning aside, I see the women and the men, the non-whites and the whites, the religious and the not-so-religious, and the downright irreligious … the point I am trying to make is that there are so many different people in my friends lists that I get to see all different perspectives play out on social media and it is fascinating. Especially when I have these visceral reactions to the things they post. That is usually a signal to me that I need to work on something internally.

One of the ways I know that my list is so diverse is when I see something pop up in my news feed that is just completely outside the rest of things on my feed (… one of these things is not like the other …) and I think, “Well, that kind of doesn’t fit in with the general flow of things”. And then I realise that on their feed, that is likely a post that fits right in. And right there is the whole “oh-shit” moment when I realise just how much of an echo chamber our news feeds can be. If we don’t hear the voices of those outside our general circles, we don’t realise just how insulated we are from the rest of the world. I mean, there’s so much happening elsewhere in the world and we often forget (or can’t handle it) because we are so embroiled in what’s happening within our circle.

I like to seek out as much of the different chambers as I can to get a better feel of what it’s like in someone else’s chamber. I like to keep myself reminded that my world is small and closeted and that there is a whole other world out there to partake of. One that doesn’t resemble my world in any way, shape, or form. It’s humbling and grounding. And something I would highly recommend to anyone.

Trevor Noah is slated to be the new Daily Show host, yeah.

I have this feeling that it’s all a big April Fool’s Joke and that Jon is going to tell us in a week or two that it was all a big joke and Trevor is just simply joining their staff as a regular “correspondent”. I don’t know why that is. All I know that after watching his routine on Netflix, that surreality is a bit stronger. Why? Let me tell you …

Two things struck me as I watched him: (1) that he seemed very uncomfortable in front of the audience; almost amateurish and inexperienced; and (2) that his routine seems overly obsessed with race in America. That he is inexperienced is probably true. His Wikipedia page states that he’s met with considerable success in other countries but that he is still quite new on the US circuit. That feeling of inexperience is likely to smooth out over the course of time as he gets a feel of what US audiences like and don’t like.

There has been much controversy surrounding his being named Jon successor. At first it was all about the fat jokes and the Jew jokes; and now there are those atheist jokes. And they all seem to have fallen so hard they fell through several floors before falling flat … assuming they were jokes at all. I notice that the first horror at his Twitter timeline was over the fat jokes and Jew jokes and the fact that he could make such ambiguous statements (because we still aren’t sure they are not jokes) about a marginalised group. It took a whole 2 days before I saw that the atheists also have bones to pick with him over statements made in the wake of Christopher Hitchens passing that were also ambiguously offensive (because those are also supposed to be jokes too although one wonders … but I digress). Atheists are also a marginalised group, but that they were left out of the initial outrage speaks volumes about our individual perspectives. I wonder how many other groups have been targeted by his so-called jokes but went unnoticed because those groups are so invisible that no one notices when they are being targeted?

Perspective is a hell of an equaliser. Take his race-centric routine. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to make a reference to how the US has traditionally handled race issues and what impact those ways have on his experiences here. He is from South Africa where race has always been a high stakes issue. He was born into a racial divide that personifies racism. In spite of his experiences at home in South Africa, the issue of race in the US is very confusing to him and he works it out in his comedy routine. The thing is, US Americans claim that this is a post-racial society. But those of us coming from outside think that is the most oblivious statement ever. The US is more embroiled in racial issues than they ever have been because now the racism is no longer obvious and on the individual “you stay over there” level. It’s in the system and the tiny little biases no one is even aware they have until they call an 18 year old man a demon (and sometimes even then they don’t realise it).

If nothing else, Noah will be good for this so-called “post-racial” society because he can shine some light into places most US Americans don’t even know exist. It’s the same place I find myself in. They say you never see yourself more clearly than when someone tells you how you look. (I don’t know who said that. I just pulled that out of my ass. It sounded good at the time. Sue me.) Noah and others like him bring a perspective that the US ought to welcome. Even if you don’t see his perspective as being unquestionably neutral, you can at least see it as bringing contrasts to a situation that has too long been seen in insular ways.

And to those who wonder whether he can be trusted with our national media spotlight, I say he will be good for some issues. His thoughts and opinions on fat people, or Jews, or religious/irreligious may be controversial, but we can’t expect him to be perfect. And he will be very good for the discussion on race – which is a discussion that still needs to happen. Maybe even more so than the fat, Jew, religious ones because those are already happening. The one on race isn’t. At least not in ways that it needs to.


A glimmer of understanding into that tight grip of fear

One of the things I have always struggled to understand is this grip of fear that paralyses people. Racism is blamed on fear. Religious bigotry is blamed on fear. Police brutality is blamed on fear. The inability to listen to another perspective on life is blamed on fear. It’s all different kinds and degrees of fear, however still equally and potentially dangerous.

Cognitive Dissonance (this is a term I’ve heard several times over the years, not the least of which is during my recent Bachelor’s program) creates a kind of fear. I remember the fear of realising I no longer believed in the God of my parents. I was so scared that I wouldn’t find another god or gods to replace him with. I searched incessantly for a belief system that “fit” because I needed one— we all need a belief system, right? And if we don’t have one, we’re lost — right? Yes, I remember that fear well. At the time, I didn’t identify it as fear; I told people I was “searching”. Every so often I head off on another search for something to believe in and each time I do that, I end up in the same place: realising that the time I took to search I could have been doing something far more sustainable. (Like learning to make candles, for example.) 

Just the other day, I read with interest and growing horror the statements of “that Duck Dynasty dude” (I think my mind is deliberately making me forget their names because … ugh!). My thought was that in all my godlessness, I have never dreamed up that kind of horrific scenario for anyone. And with all the ills I have lived through, I would wish that on no one. Of course, it could be argued that I haven’t lived through any ills. Nothing that would make me really want to hurt anyone. No one has murdered anyone close to me (that’s a lie; I wish him no harm though), no one has deliberately discriminated against me or mine (that I know of — they may have but it wasn’t overt), I’ve never been raped (also a lie), and so on and so forth. 

But here’s the thing: I fancy myself a writer and I have some of the most horrific of fictional scenes running through my mind. Somehow it’s ok for those things to happen to my fictional characters, but not something I’d think of doing to anyone. “That Duck Dynasty dude”, if I remember rightly, placed himself as the doer of those evil deeds. If I had been him, I would have at least divorced myself from those actions and said “someone”. The literal takeaway is that it is his God that is preventing him from committing some evil shit against some other human being. How sad is that?

But I am straying from the topic … and what I want to say is that I guess I have always understood on some subliminal level what that fear can do to a person. Cripple, paralyse, cause one to be stuck and not be able to move forward. There is a panic and you think, “Oh no! My whole life is a lie!!!! Where does that leave me?” You think, “But … but … this is what I’ve known to be true forever. Everything I ever knew confirmed this truth. This new upstart of a person/thing/event trying to convince me otherwise is EVIL! Ah! Get away!”

Dramatic? Maybe. But deep down you know that it’s a verbal description of what goes on your head when the very definition of yourself and your life and your beliefs are challenged on fundamental levels.

I have suddenly come to this realisation on a very conscious level myself. While it isn’t your typical fundamentally challenged belief, it is still a fear that I am having difficulty letting go of — that of flying. I’ve never been afraid to fly in airplanes. In fact I have often said how ironic it is that I so love aircraft and flying when I am so cripplingly afraid of heights (and depths). A chance to ride in a plane, even if it is from Montego Bay to Kingston (about 15-20 minutes in flight — 10 minutes on each end for ascent and decent). “Yay! Plane ride!!! Whoohoo!”  Never mind that the reason was because our car was stranded in Montego Bay and that was why we were flying home.

This Germanwings crash, though, is seriously challenging my love of flight. Seriously … I am thinking that knowing my rotten luck (don’t we often tell ourselves that we have rotten luck when we want to avoid doing something?), I would be on one of those flights that crashes and leaves no one alive. I saw an article on Vox this morning that tried to rationalise why that would never happen. Of course it started out with the point that aircraft crashes are still far less frequent than automobile crashes and exposed all the statistics that support that concept (I’ve used that one myself several times). Yet I found myself going “Yeah yeah. I ain’t flying again anytime soon if I can help it”. I slapped myself, of course. “My parents and many of my friends are still in Jamaica. That’s like abandoning them somehow! Stop it! You don’t mean that!”

Yeah. Dramatic.
Long story short, I get the “grip of fear” thing now. On a very visceral level. Sure I know that my sudden and paralysing fear of flying (maybe?) isn’t the same as a fear of the uprising of black people or the fear of godlessness and the void that creates; but it’s still fear that could get out of control easily in my head if I don’t cognitively and very deliberately talk myself out of it … every. single. time.

See what I did there?

A little musing on “Crucial Conversations”

I’m reading a book that I was introduced to during my 40-hour mediation training in late-January. The book addresses some very important aspects of conversation that have been haunting me for near 6 years. It has always fascinated me that human beings are gifted with the ability to speak, yet we almost are never able to have a conversation that yields useful results. That may sound ridiculous to you being that you have conversations everyday … but think about the last time you had a serious conversation with anyone and tell me whether you came away from it feeling completely satisfied or whether there was this slight to urgent feeling of not quite having addressed everything in one sitting. If you can tell me “Sure I came away satisfied!”, then let’s talk. There is clearly something you’re doing right and I want to know what it is.

It shouldn’t be surprising to me that I ended up in the fields of communication and conflict resolution (if even on a volunteer basis). There are aspects of communication that have always been of concern for me. Even if I had a peripheral interest before, after moving here to the US that interest has grown into the forefront of my thoughts. And most specifically on how conversation happens around “race” which is a topic I never had occasion or need to discuss before moving to this country. “Race” is a gargantuan issue in the US – in spite of what people might tell you, the issue of how people who look different is a central and underlying aspect of every single interaction. Many of you will disagree and many more will nod and say to themselves “Amen sister!”. To those who disagree, here’s a thought: if even one person in a room think it’s too cold in that room, then there is a conversation to be had around temperature; if even just to acknowledge that Yes, they are less tolerable of cooler temperatures than anyone else in the room.

So anyway – back to that book I started talking about … it’s called “Crucial Conversations” and in short, it takes us on a journey through conversations that have a tendency to turn bad quickly and without notice just based on the fact that each participant has high stakes on the outcome of that conversation. And when we say “high stakes” we just mean that each participant wants to be heard and understood, each participant feels their point or points are integral to the progression of said conversation on race, or that without their perspective there is no conversation to be had. Right or wrong, everyone has the right to be heard and this book helps us understand how we can keep those high stakes conversations moving forward without rage and recriminations that inevitably derail the whole effort.

I can’t wait to finish it. I wish I was less distracted by other pursuits (cough World of Warcraft cough) such as the job search and whatnot … but I’ll get there – I know I will; I have to because it will certainly help me become a better mediator.

Because oh yeah – that is still a thing. I am working on my exam (well, sort of – haven’t touched it in a week or two because distractions and illness) and I am hoping to start on my practicum real soon. More on that later … in the meantime I heartily recommend that if you find yourself in discussions that turn ugly real fast over key issue, “Crucial Conversations” is an important book to have read. Trust me; go get it and read it.